Ghost in the Shell was surrounded by criticism ever since the announcement of #ScarlettJohansson's casting as Major Motoko Kusanagi. Given that the character is originally Japanese, fans were outraged, pointing to this being a blatant case of whitewashing. Regardless of the storm it stirred, though, Paramount had high hopes for the live-action adaptation of the manga and animated classic to kickstart a lucrative franchise.
Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. The movie earned a mere $19 million on opening weekend. To put that into perspective, it had a reported budget of $110 million, so that's, well, not good. On top of that, it currently holds a 45% percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But what the studio didn't acknowledge before, it acknowledges now. According to Kyle Davies - domestic distribution chief for Paramount - the whitewashing controversy played a big part in that disappointment. Speaking to CBC News, he stated:
"We had hopes for better results domestically. I think the conversation regarding casting impacted the reviews."
Keep in mind, Davies is not referring to the controversy directly impacting the film's box office. He's referring to the controversy influencing the reviews, which in turn made a dent on the financial performance.
The general movie-going audience is mostly unaware of the industry's behind-the-scenes developments, and often use reviews to decide whether to watch a film or not. So he does have a point in stating that reviews influence the overall box office. However, that doesn't mean that #GhostintheShell reviews were influenced by controversy, because if we take a look at them, they are considerably mixed.
The film was called, among other things, "lifeless" and "bland" on one side. And on the other, it was praised for its smart storytelling approach and impressive visuals. Therefore the criticism doesn't seem to be thanks to Scarlet Johansson's race. Now, with sort of okay reviews, what could have caused the movie to flop so hard? Most likely, small awareness of the property from moviegoing audiences.
For as groundbreaking and well known as the original #anime is among its fans, those formats aren't well-known to a larger audience. Ghost In The Shell did not have a prominent presence in mainstream media. And with lukewarm reception, the live-action adaptation had a tough job standing out, even with Scarlett Johansson's star power.
After discussing the whitewashing controversy influencing reviews, Davies explained that it's hard to make a movie that pleases fans, but still reaches a massive audience:
"You've got a movie that is very important to the fanboys since it's based on a Japanese anime movie. So you're always trying to thread that needle between honoring the source material and make a movie for a mass audience. That's challenging, but clearly the reviews didn't help."
That mentality unfortunately falls back to the belief that Asian actors cannot be marketed with pleasing results to a worldwide audience. As I've stated in the past, that should not be considered when casting accurate representations of any given character.
It is offensive to think that way. Yes, (beware, these are spoilers) they explain the race-change in the film as Major originally being Japanese before her consciousness got transferred into Scarlett Johansson's body. But that highlights the problem even more: The story had to be structured around the fact that the character was of a different race.
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- 'Ghost In The Shell' Director Rupert Sanders Reflects On His 'Momentary Lapse' Of Judgement With Kristen Stewart
So there needs to be more awareness on that aspect. Race is not a factor when it comes to a movie's success or downfall, and studios need to start reflecting that. Studios also need to stop pointing the finger at critics whenever a movie fails or performs below expectations. Critics report on what they see. It's on studios to make better product, not for critics to pull their punches. In essence, the studio mindset needs to drastically change on a number of levels to survive in 2017.
Hopefully, future Asian adaptations benefit from that change in perspective and we are finally able to watch a movie adaptation that embraces its diverse cultural aspects.
What did you think about statements regarding Ghost In The Shell's whitewashing controversy? Let me know in the comments!
[Source: CBC News]